A warm ocean breeze swayed the palm trees as we drove west from Pompano Beach, Florida, to the resort hotel where we were staying for the weekend. My granddaughter would be involved in dance competitions and classes within the hotel’s ballrooms crowded with costumes, chatter, devoted parents and nervous performers of all ages.

I try to miss none of the significant events my precious angel deems essential. Her 14-year-old Pompano toes have been tapping to the beat of the music since before she was age two. So yes, this was a Grandma-flying-Delta-worthy occasion.

As we drove toward Coral Springs, the landscape transformed into streets lined with sidewalks framed in manicured perfection. Gated communities protect exquisite homes where residents walk dogs, bike and jog with friends. Flowers bursting in blooming color flourish under the bright Florida sunshine. As the sun melted into the horizon, a pink hue was added to an already peaceful, quiet, portrait of stunning light.

Once we made a right turn toward our hotel, I saw a large, well-landscaped school accompanied by a distinctive entrance. As the car’s lights beamed across its corner, the name of the institution was proudly displayed on a stucco facade: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Yes, we were now in Parkland.

It was a Friday evening and all the students were busy with their lives somewhere other than on these grounds. The home of the Eagles was silent, as if it were just another school building waiting for bustling activity to resume on Monday.

However, there isn’t another school quite like Parkland. There are a few schools in our country whose names evoke every emotion from love to hate, but to stand physically before this pristine, white stucco structure takes the viewer beyond the headlines and the horror.

Beneath the impressive entrance with the eagle engraved above its name, lies a portion of earth covered in flowers. Above the bed of colors rise 17 illuminated angels representing the 17 lives lost on Valentine’s Day 2018. Three adults, six sons and eight daughters who left for school one morning and would never again walk home.

As we drove by the stone gates to upscale communities, many still hoist a large banner at their entrance: “MSD STRONG. Our home. Our family. Our community.”

We should consider it necessary to put the same banner in front of our homes no matter where we reside, because Parkland, Florida, is a member of the community of America.

However, our sense of connection can be lost when we become so quick to turn a tragedy into a political nightmare. Without a thought as to the parents, the students, the teachers and to those innocent lives lost, we can distance any and all emotion for the sake of professing our beliefs.

Two more students plus a grieving father have recently died from suicide since Valentine’s Day 2018. The death toll continues to rise. The people who walked those halls and witnessed such horror are never going to be as they were before that fateful day. Grief counseling is still a part of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and will be for a long time.

The bottom line is until we address the severity of stress, bullying and mental illness thriving in our youth, and until we address insensitivity in our adults, we will likely see more angels rising from Earth.

I was amazed after the tragedy how many people sent hate mail and showed disdain when several Parkland students protested for better gun laws. What a tragic example of how unempathetic the citizens of our community can become when we allow our political views to take precedence over compassion and kindness.

Whether one believes the students were right or wrong, their fight came from young souls trying to heal and make a difference.

As I watched my angel twirl across the floor amid hundreds of other young participants, I wondered about those missing the dance. They were the children whose names are Alex, Cara, Gina, Alaina, Luke, Jaime, Martin, Nicholas, Helena, Joaquin, Carmen, Peter, Alyssa and Meadow. Their little toes were also tapping to the beat of the music at age two, but who now will miss the dance.

We must at times, put away our differences and not turn every situation into a political or affiliation based debate. We should instead show others that empathy, understanding, unity and love can rise above ugliness. We must bind together to protect the innocent, our children, by becoming more thoughtful and providing a better sense of community in America. It is way past time.

Perhaps then we would be as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, “America Strong. Our Home. Our Family. Our Community.”

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a columnist from Roswell and the author of “it’s all WRITE with me!”

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